Two years ago, I received the call that I knew was coming. I had spent the past week traveling to and from the hospital, holding my grandma’s hand and trying to come to terms with the fact that this was it. After eight years of PET scans and chemo appointments and good days and bad days, it was time to say goodbye. She had fought the most courageous battle, never truly letting on to any of us how sick she really was, and it was time for us to let her go.
The last conversation I had with her was six days before she died. When my mom and I heard late Sunday evening that grandma had been admitted to the hospital for pneumonia (not long after being discharged after having lung surgery), we visited her to make sure she was settling in okay.
I had no reason to suspect that this was the last time I would hear my grandma’s voice. Or see her smile at me. Or watch her grasp her husband’s hand on her own volition.
I’m so grateful that I went to the hospital that evening because the next day, she was given a breathing tube and put under sedation. And five days later, she was gone.
I’ve never had to grieve the death of someone close to me. One of my biggest fears is losing someone close to me, so with every PET scan, I waited on pins and needles for the news. Sometimes, the news was good. I remember crying with relief in the kitchen at the daycare I worked at in college when my mom texted me, “No cancer.” And sometimes, the news was bad. “They found a spot on her lungs.” Each time, I had to come to terms with losing my grandma and how I would survive that. I didn’t know if I could. I didn’t know if I could live my life without her. I didn’t know how to exist without her.
And yet… I had to. I had to learn how to live without my grandma. It’s been two years and I’m still learning.
I still expect her to be sitting in her rocking chair by the window when I walk into my grandparents’ home, a huge pleased smile plastered on her face when she sees me. I still expect to be able to have conversations with her, to talk to her about God and our family’s history and my life and her life. I still look around at every family gathering for her, wanting to give her a big hug and talk to her about anything and everything.
There’s an emptiness without grandma, a huge piece of our family that is missing.
We’ll always have that emptiness because grandma filled up a huge part of my life and our family. I remember spending entire summer days with her, where she would make my brother and me fluffernutter sandwiches and let us play “grocery store” using my grandpa’s printing calculator. I remember her hosting every holiday gathering, not taking a seat until every person had been served. I remember every Sunday morning when I was a kid, coming to Children’s Church and feeling so blessed that my grandparents were the pastors. I remember holding my grandma’s hands as I prayed for a family member to stop smoking. Every week, I prayed with her and it’s one of the most cherished memories I hold with me.
I can still hear grandma’s voice inside me. I can still feel her hands gripping mine. I can still see her in my mind’s eye and remember how much her smile lit up my world. I still remember. And I hope I never forget.
Life still feels strange without grandma. And I’m not sure it will ever feel normal for her to be gone. She will always be a part of me, a massive part of me, so I will always want her with me. I will always search for her at family gatherings and ache to talk to her when I’m upset. That’s just because grandma filled up our lives with her presence. Her presence wasn’t a loud one. No, she was a quiet woman with inner strength and a laugh that could light up the room. But she had a larger-than-life presence in the way she carried herself. And in the way she loved. Because she loved fiercely. Man oh man, did she bless my life with her love. I never felt smarter or braver or prettier or sweeter than when I was with my grandma. She had the confidence in me that I couldn’t see in myself. And that’s how she was with all of her children and grandchildren. She made us believe in ourselves. She made us believe we could just because we are.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a better grandma, not even if you had given me a pen and allowed me to sketch her for myself. She was everything to me, she was everything to us. And she is so, so missed. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming to think that I have to live the rest of my life without her. No more hugs or pep talks or prayers or reminiscing with her. She was only mine for 27 years and then I had to let her go.
And while I miss her more than I could ever express, I also know what she would want more than anything is for me to live a blessed, full life. She wouldn’t want me to mourn her or cry over her. She would want me to attack life with the same vigor she did and to make an impact on the world. And so, grandma, I promise to try.